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7 May. Isaiah chapters 36-41
To repeat the last paragraph of yesterday’s post: the commentary I am following suggests that the natural break in the book of Isaiah between the prophecies of exile and of return, usually understood as being between chapters 39 and 40, could equally well be between 33/34 or 35/36, depending how you look at it. So today’s six chapters most likely cover that turning point.
Chapters 36 to 39 (apart from the “writing of King Hezekiah after he had recovered from his illness” in 38:9-20) are history rather than prophecy, and are a slightly abridged version of 2 Kings 18-20. So for comment on that, see my earlier blog post http://www.pilgrims.org.uk/the-bible-in-a-year-26-27-april/
Chapters 40 and 41 on the other hand are a return to prophesy, addressed to Israel as a whole. For all their sins and the punishment that God has brought by destroying their temple and their way of life, he will not destroy them completely. As with Noah, as with the people of the Exodus, enough will survive to return and revive the worship of God in Jerusalem again.
This prophecy comes, however, not after the story of the exile to Babylon – we are not there yet – but after the first invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701BC. The final capture of Jerusalem was not to be for over a hundred years yet; Hezekiah would live longer but not see it, as Isaiah prophesied.
At one of the low points in my life, when I seemed to have lost the sense of God’s presence, he gave me a sign: that of the turning of the tide. Those who watch the tide cannot easily tell the moment it is at its lowest point. It is enough to know that, when things seem to have got as low as they can get, there will be a turning, an increase, a returning of the waters. And in God’s time things would, and did, get better.
If we maintain the metaphor of the turning tide, Chapter 40 is like the Severn Bore roaring upstream, leaving its watchers in no doubt what is on its way. Many of the words are familiar from the opening aria of Handel’s “Messiah”, as John the Baptist who came as a prophet to prepare the way for Jesus was understood to be fulfilling the role of “one in the desert calling, prepare the way of the Lord”. It seems the terror to be wrought on the people of Judah was such that God had to promise them the happy ending even before the worst had come.